Earth Day is celebrating its 45th anniversary this April 22nd, but for almost half a century, its goals have remained the same: to promote awareness about environmental problems, and to help encourage and empower people to start solving them. This year, I’d like to suggest a few simple ways to help green your life – and in the spirit of spreading awareness, a few reasons why you should bother.
Sure, there’s the conventional knowledge that you should turn off lights when you leave a room – and that’s definitely true. But in some cases it’s the lights themselves that are the problem. Both fixtures and bulbs can be inefficient, using more electricity to produce the same amount of light (plus heat!).
Why It’s Bad For You: Waste is waste, period – even if it’s “just a bulb,” it can make a bigger difference than you might think on your monthly electricity bill.
Why It’s Bad For The Environment: The more electricity you use, the more electricity needs to be created. That means more fossil fuels burned, and more harmful greenhouse gasses released into the environment – or, depending on the area you live in, a greater demand for nuclear power, hydropower, or even wind or solar power. While the last three are better options, reducing energy demand reduces the land area needed to house those energy-capturing facilities.
What To Do – Good: Turn of lights when you aren’t using them. Better: Replace inefficient incandescent bulbs with compact florescent bulbs (CFLs). Best: Replace old lamps and lighting fixtures with new, EnergyStar rated versions. Even Better: Have a professional do a home energy audit and make a plan to improve your home’s efficiency – everything from replacing appliances to sealing your windows. Bonus:Install a solar panel to help supply some of the electricity to your home to further offset your carbon footprint.
It’s all too easy to waste water and not think about it – as easy as turning on a faucet. But water is one of the earth’s most precious resources – less than 2% of all water can be used for drinking, cooking, or even watering crops, and most of it is frozen. In may areas, we’re quickly depleting aquifers and leaving riverbeds dry in the summer months – both resources that renew much more slowly than we’re consuming them.
Why It’s Bad For You: In the short term, it isn’t, and that’s a big part of the problem. For most of us, water comes from the sky and out of the tap and that’s that, but…
Why It’s Bad For The Environment: Many parts of the world are experiencing record-breaking droughts, even as close to home as California, and a lack of good, clean, H2O is rapidly killing important crops. Once we deplete our natural (and man-made) reserves, if we don’t make drastic changes in our water consumption, the situation will only get worse.
What To Do: Good: Turn off water when you aren’t using it – that includes while you’re brushing teeth, shaving, and scrubbing dishes – and take shorter showers. Better: Replace shower heads in your home with low flow varieties, and check and replace leaky faucets with low flow faucets. Best: Do a full accounting of your home’s water consumption, everything from your washer and drier to your dishwasher and sprinkler system. Figure out where you’re over-using and make a plan to stop the flow. Low flow toilets can be a great investment, as can waterless urinals if you’ve got more than a few boys living in your home.
What you eat matters, both for your body and for your planet. These days, so much of what we put in our bodies is processed, preserved, and shipped hundreds of miles or more from where we buy and eat them.
Why It’s Bad For You: Heavily processed food isn’t natural; everything from hydrogenated oil to too much sodium can build up in your body and make you sick over time. Plus, even fresh produce that spends a lot of time on the back of a truck loses its nutritive value the longer it sits between when it’s picked and when it gets on your plate. Local grown foods are fresher, tastier, and better for you – some of them, like honey, can even help prevent seasonal allergies.
Why It’s Bad For The Environment: Don’t get me wrong – our ability to transport food to where it’s needed is a beautiful thing, especially for areas that can’t grow their own food. But, shipping food means burning fossil fuels, and canning and packaging food means more waste for landfills and wasting resources to wrap products you could have gotten fresh out of the ground. As well, non-organic food often uses harmful pesticides and fertilizers that contaminate our (precious, limited!) drinking water.
What To Do About It: Good: Buy fresh produce as often as you can, and organic where you’re able. Remember these six rules to eat by Better: Find your local farmer’s market and do as much of your shopping there as you can. Best: This summer, make some space in your back yard to grow some of your own seasonal fruits and veggies. Replacing lawn space with garden space will not only result in a bounty of fresh, delicious produce, but will also significantly reduce the amount of water you use trying to keep your lawn green.
Earth Day may only come once a year, but the changes and resolutions you make on April 22 can reach far beyond, both in your own life and in your local and global environments. And remember, no change is too small, nor any contribution insignificant – one voice in a crowd might not sound like much, but get that whole crowd talking in unison, and they’re sure to make themselves heard. So, this Earth Day, don’t leave it to someone else to do. Get informed, get motivated, and be the change you want to see in the world. Heck, if you’re feeling particularly fired up, you can even pledge your Act of Green and get involved with Earth Day events in your area.